A fantastic nonprofit professional I recently encountered described struggling to integrate two valuable parts of herself at work. She is a person of extraordinary work ethic and accomplishment. She works systematically and thoroughly, never missing deadlines or quotas and always remembering to “dot the I’s and cross the T’s. She is also incredibly creative. She has an uncanny knack for spotting patterns and dreaming up innovative approaches to sticky problems. Unfortunately, her innovative side does not always find its way into the execution of her day-to-day work. It is as if she believes somewhere deep inside that playful imagination has no place in the intense effort of generating disciplined productivity. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth.
It seems to me that a lot of us struggle with this whether we realize it or not. We inadvertently build walls between our intuitive and disciplined sides. Legendary author and art teacher Betty Edwards introduced artists and organizational leaders alike to the notion that we can give the visual and perceptual side of our brain a boost by suppressing the verbal and analytic side. To learn more, check out her tour de force, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Like many important works, this insightful book has been misused terribly. The greatest value in distinguishing between our brains’ two very different ways of processing information is recognizing them in order to integrate them. By recognizing these opposite modes of thinking, we can learn to experiment with them. By blending and synergizing our analytical and creative sides, our greatest accomplishments are achieved and our greatest contributions made.
I recently listened to two books on Audible that I think go together incredibly well to make this point. In Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds, David Goggins tells his painful, raw and powerful story about how sheer grit, determination and discipline can lead a person to become someone vastly greater than he could possibly have been expected to become. Comes along Mickey Singer’s extraordinary The Surrender Experiment: My Journey into Life’s Perfection to show the reverse side of the very same coin. Singer’s incredible story demonstrates that only by committing to allowing life to unfold naturally can life’s expectations and opportunities be most fully revealed and actualized. Oozing from between the lines of both books are the lessons of the other. Each author clearly integrated the lessons of the other into his own very special and powerful story.
Business skills teachers and authors Michael E. Gerber (The E-Myth Revisited) and Peter Senge (The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization) rightly point us toward processes and systems for getting our most important work done in organizations. Neither, however, loses sight of the fact that every process is executed, or at least overseen, by thinking, feeling human beings. Every system’s success depends not only on design, but by the people presiding over its operation and ongoing improvement. These are critical lessons for those of us building and leading mission based nonprofit organizations.
For our organizations to achieve maximum success with our respective missions, we need well designed systems and disciplined execution. We also need inspired, creative people to operate and improve upon those systems.
- How do you stack up in this all important balancing act?
- Do you rely too much on gut instincts?
- Are you too rigid in how you apply processes and procedures?
- What one thing can you change now to better integrate both of these critical dimensions to your organization’s success?